Joy is one of the most important qualities that make our life meaningful and worth living. Life is to be enjoyed. How else do you live your life? If there is no joy in life, why do we live? You don’t want to just sustain your life, you want to live fully tasting and enjoy the treasure of your life. We may not be able to extend our life span too much. I know, living a healthy life is important. But we won’t be able to extend our life span too much. What is important is living our every moment to the fullest with a sense of joy and happiness. How well you live is more important than how long you live.
The quality of life is not just about what you do or what you have. It is about who you are and how you feel about yourself and your life. Are you comfortable with yourself? Do you feel good about your life? What you feel in every moment of your life, that matters.
The Joy of Jesus
Jesus saw people in his time and he was very sad because they weren’t very happy. This was what Jesus said.
‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” (Matthew 11:16-19)
They couldn’t feel anything about their life. They could not dance with those who were happy. They could not weep with those who were sad. Their emotions dried up. They felt numb. They were just filled with a lot of negative emotions. They saw John who neither eat nor drank and they said, “He has a demon.” They saw Jesus who enjoyed his life eating and drinking and they said that he was a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners. They weren’t very happy.
That’s not how God wants us to live. God wants us to enjoy our life.
“Rejoice” or “Joy” is the word you see everywhere in the Bible. Both in the New Testament and the Old Testament.
Joy is also very much a Christmas theme.
When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, he said,
Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)
Even unborn John the Baptist leaped with joy in his mother’s womb. This was what Elizabeth, John’s mother, said.
For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. (Luke 1:44)
When three wise men saw the star, they rejoiced.
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. (Matthew 2:10)
And of course, you all know the famous phrase from St. Paul.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
Living With Joy
Living with joy is God’s desire for all of us. God designed us to live with joy. That’s what life is. LIVING WITH JOY. The reason we cannot do it is because we are somehow damaged. Our spirit is damaged. That’s why God sent us Jesus Christ. Jesus came to repair us who live with the damaged self and restore our joy. Jesus himself really enjoyed his life. Jesus came to deliver us from things that take away joy from us. Sin, hatred, fights, and wars – They are all around us. Fear, worries, doubts, disappointment – That’s what we experience every day. All these things take away joy from us.
Zephaniah spoke to Israelites.
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem! (Zephaniah 3:14)
The Israelites brought darkness upon them because of their corruption. They followed their own idols, their own desire. They followed their own greed. They didn’t pay attention to what God desired, which was justice and love for the weak and the vulnerable. They ignored God’s desire.
In the end, all they experienced was unhappiness, fear, and disaster. They felt helpless. They wanted to feel the joy but they didn’t know how. It came to a point where they felt condemned.
To these people, Zephaniah proclaimed.
The Lord has taken away the judgements against you,… (Zephaniah 3:15)
He also said,
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. (Zephaniah 3:15)
Yes, we have made many mistakes. We ourselves have brought disaster to our lives. In the process, we have lost the joy of life. We have become filled with guilt, worries, and fear. Even if we want, we cannot go back and fix our life. That’s not how life works. We cannot simply undo what has been already done. That’s why so many people live with regrets, guilt, and helplessness. I wish that our life so far was a test run and we can now live a real life. But we can’t.
But you know what. What we cannot do, God did for us. Zephaniah said that God took away the judgements against us. God gave us a new life, a new chance to start again. A clean slate. We don’t need to live with regrets, guilt, and helplessness. We don’t need to live feeling condemned.
A New Life
A chance to start a new life. That’s what gives us joy. Our past mistakes cannot define our life. They teach us but they don’t define us.
When we come to God with humble repentance, God always accepts us, forgives us, and gives us a new chance. We know clearly what took away joy from us. Our selfishness, our greed, our pride, our anger and hatred – these things took away joy from us. We don’t want to repeat that kind of life again. We want to live differently and we can.
We want to live life that gives us joy. What gives you joy? When you buy a new clothes, a new car, and a new house? Yes. It gives us a good feeling but a good feeling is not joy that I am talking about. A good feeling does not last.
We are joyful when we know for sure that we can always start a new life. It doesn’t matter what path we have walked so far, we can start a new life when we come to God with humble repentance. This new life is not about having more and doing more. It is about enjoying life’s beautiful gifts. Family, friends, seeing children playing, delicious food we eat, laughter we share, love we feel, peace we have, a new day every day – these are all beautiful gifts of God. They are the gifts of God that give us joy. In that sense, joy is God’s gift. Recognizing the beauty of life and deeply appreciating it revive the joy within us.
In today’s passage, we see God’s joy.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
When God sees us live with joy, God is more joyful than us. Zephaniah said, he will exult over us with loud singing. The prophet gives us this metaphor of God singing with a loud voice.
We can see the father who receives the prodigal son with open arms.
But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate…But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found. (Luke 15:22-24, 32)
We can see the shepherd who finds the lost sheep and comes home with joy.
Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” (Luke 15:4-6)
God rejoices with us when we find the joy of finding a new life. May the spirit of Christmas restore joy within us. May we experience joy starting a new life. May your every moment be filled with joy.
Christmas is a beginning of a new era. With the birth of Jesus, a new era began. Let us start a new life with joy.